House joins Senate in ordering lawsuit on refugees in TN

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A resolution that would order Tennessee to sue the federal government over its refugee resettlement program passed Monday in the state House. Senate counterparts previously approved the resolution and would only have to agree to a change that would allow a private law firm to sue on behalf of the state before the measure becomes law.

Gov. Bill Haslam cannot veto it because it is a resolution and not a bill. (Note: There is dispute on this point; see note at end of this post.)

Immigrant rights groups condemned the proposal after the vote, saying the true intention of the measure was to stop or limit Muslim refugee resettlement in Tennessee. They also said the state would appear unwelcoming.

“We are disappointed but not surprised by the House of Representatives’ vote today,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

She added in her statement, “The passage of this resolution, and the litigation that will follow, puts Tennessee on the wrong side of history.”

Fears about refugee resettlement in Tennessee were heightened after last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris. Aside from security concerns, some lawmakers have argued that the refugee program leaves states without a say about who comes in and forces them to foot the bill for the education, health and other taxpayer-funded services provided to the refugees.

The states of Texas and Alabama have sued the federal government over the refugee rights program.

The resolution was sponsored by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

Some lawmakers raised concerns during debate about letting private legal firms step in to sue on behalf of the Tennessee, even if it is for free, as opposed to getting the state attorney general to do the legal work.

“I understand this is a well-intended resolution, but I think this goes down a very dangerous path, essentially opening up our government to whatever band of activist lawyer happens to roll along and want to conduct so-called free litigation for us,” said Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

But Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, a Lancaster Republican who supports the resolution, said the measure was necessary because federal government overreach with the program.

“We have no say what happens in our borders,” Weaver said. “We are not consulted.”

Teatro, of the immigrant and refugee rights group, has previously said there about 1,600 refugees resettled in the state each year with about 1,100 of them moving into Nashville.

Note: Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee, says in an email that the resolution would require the governor’s approval, citing language in Article III, Section 18 of the Tennessee Constitution, as follows:

Every joint resolution or order (except on question of adjournment and proposals of specific amendments to the Constitution) shall likewise be presented to the Governor for his signature, and on being disapproved by him shall in like manner, be returned with his objections; and the same before it shall take effect shall be repassed by a majority of all the members elected to both houses in the manner and according to the rules prescribed in case of a bill.

Thus, says Weinberg: If it were just a senate or house resolution, then the governor does not get a say. Because it is a joint resolution, it seems like it must go to the governor. Interestingly, former state Rep. Joe Carr, an arch-conservative now running against U.S. Rep. Diane Black in the 6th Congressional District, made the same argument in a communique to yours truly.